A lovely Cruise offered to our French guests Feb 2016

Plantation bungalows in the Western Ghats
Plantation bungalows and heritage properties are offered upon Westernghats through our network.

Tea estates exuding colonial charm dot the picturesque hill stations of Tamil Nadu and Kerala

Leopard! Shoot him!” exploded George, waking me up from my dream-trance in the front seat of the car. I grabbed my camera, springing out into the forest road at 3am with only car headlights and a small torch for visibility, quite the panther myself. Beautiful beyond words, gracefully shy and lit in our lights, the big blot-spotted yellow cat crossed our path before darting through wildflower bushes and into the night. There was nothing dangerous and everything magical about this guy. “Shoot him! Shoot!”

A series of public bus rides that day, through three climatic zones and two southern states, in addition to various states of mind, had me passed out on the car seat by midnight. The leopard changed all that: I was now unbelievably wide awake. Finally, this was my real welcome to Kerala’s Western Ghats after weeks of travelling. By the looks of it, George’s panther buzz had hit him even harder.


George and I had met only that evening through a common friend. One beer led to another, which in turn eventually led to this impromptu safari through jungles and on to the Downton Estate Bungalow, a well-maintained 1930s colonial house in the middle of a cardamom plantation owned by George’s relatives. Downton is the only privately owned plantation in the massive Periyar Tiger Reserve in Kerala and the only way to enter it is along the forest road. I wasn’t complaining.

A rubber planter who diversified into the plantation tourism business, George Abraham Pottamkulam is also a history enthusiast and has published a book on South Indian colonial plantations called The Path to the Hills.

The plantation experience in the southern hills, George explained, is mostly about being pampered by a battery of loyal attendants and living it up the planter way — a sumptuous colonial existence inherited and somewhat indigenised (including the cuisine, thankfully!) by their Indian successors, who continue to regard the early British settlers as important cultural references and the founding fathers of the land.

Naturally, many takers for George’s plantation tours are nostalgic descendants of the original British planters trying to find their Indian ‘roots’. These trips, George explained, are also about luxury, high tariffs and the resulting low tourist numbers per unit of land. Compared to the mass tourism widely promoted in most Indian forests and hill stations, with their unplanned constructions and overcrowding, this option is low-impact and more sustainable, since estate tourism doesn’t require new construction, working instead with old houses and existing plantations.

There’s much truth in this eco-friendly aspect as things stand today, but also a fair dose of irony when seen in the historical context: It was for planting tea, coffee, spices and other lucrative cash crops that early colonial ‘pioneers’ had hacked into the virgin forests in the region to begin with. Their settling activities replacing natural forests with cash-crop monoculture eventually set the stage for the long-term ecological damage in the Western Ghats we see today. But like many things colonial, the bad also came with the good.


The era of plenty brought in a new culture of elegant lifestyle and architecture amid the natural surroundings. Things have come full circle today and, other than the reserve forests, the plantation estates are now among the last remnants of greenery and old-world tranquillity amid our overcrowded and oversold tourist destinations.

And so it was with mixed emotions, as a lover of both nature and tasteful things, that I responded to these bungalows when George asked me if I’d like to photograph some of them for his next book. It was now time for me to switch hats and sample the planter’s life in the comfort of his natural habitat, the estate bungalow, and indulge in some time travel. This was going to be a long ride.

By the time we reached the Abrahams’ Evergreen Estate Bungalow in Kuttikal, near the Mundakayam Valley in Kerala, it was nearly dawn. We were just in time to hit the village meat shop and score what was to turn into a delicious cutlet brunch after an overdue snooze. George’s wife would soon warm up to the foodie in me, sharing her wonderful Syrian Christian meat and fish recipes.

Meanwhile, we were now in rubber country. The relatively moderate altitudes make the climate here more temperate than in the higher ranges we left behind, but still nowhere near as warm as the plains. The immediate surprise, though, was finding myself in this mazy late-Art Deco bungalow, complete with original furniture and fittings, in an inland village of Kerala. A few Syrian Christian touches — like portraits of George’s ancestors on the wall, a Malayalam Bible and a wood-fire kitchen with a red cooking platform — punctuated the décor.

We also visited other properties owned by George’s relatives in the region, such as Hill House — a colourful, curio-filled villa in a cardamom estate owned by an ardent antique collector; we met the owner’s parents, who now live in what was once the summer palace of the Queen of Travancore. Then there was Plapalli, a Syrian Christian house on the Mundakayam Valley hillside, with visitor-friendly additions like a tree house and infinity pool overlooking the mountains.

We then moved on to Kanniamalai, a tea estate overlooking the Rajamalai peak. Set up in 1895, Rajamalai Estate began producing one of India’s first high-quality ‘orthodox’ black teas in 1902. Resisting an afternoon siesta that was calling after a heavy lunch and an early morning, we set off on an excursion to Gravel Banks, a trout-fishing stream that promised to be a worthwhile way to spend the afternoon. Gravel Banks welcomes only expert anglers. The only access is through the 97 sq km Eravikulam National Park, on the foothills of Rajamalai and Anaimudi (2,690m).

Eravikulam’s shola forests, with its stunted trees, montane grasslands and unique criss-crossing river system, support at least twenty-six animal species, including the largest number of Nilgiri tahrs — some 750 of them. Eravikulam’s lovely, big-eyed tahrs are as unafraid of human beings as common goats, casually going about their rock-climbing business, as chatty tourists surround and stalk them with flashing cameras and cellphones. If you’ve never seen a Nilgiri tahr before, this is the easiest place to start.


We drove past the last tourists before crossing the Rajamalai rock face and rolling through the tea estate to reach Gravel Banks, which proved to be a quaint, rather basic set-up. The British-era fishing hut is bounded by a ditch to keep wild animals out. A stream runs through one side, an old wooden suspension bridge swaying over it, still going strong after all these years. Eravikulam and Gravel Banks presented a glimpse of what the Munnar experience might once have been. On our return, our happy clear sky suddenly turned into one big shroud, fluffing up and parting again in suspended woolly animation.

After a stop at the Kallar Bungalow, the next destination on our list of overnighters was Sholamalay, an 1898 property sitting in a meadow. The first Christian mass was conducted here in the High Ranges. This might explain the church-style Gothic arch appearing like a wildcard in a corridor connecting the rooms in an otherwise typical planter’s bungalow. Various owners carrying out restorations over the years probably left the arch untouched for religious and sentimental reasons. The wet weather continued the following morning. However, it was time to leave Munnar and explore more tea estates and bungalows across the Ghats, in Peermade, Valparai, Kodaikanal and Coonoor.

Among the houses we visited, I found the Red Lynch Bungalow in Kodaikanal particularly impressive. Although not a plantation bungalow, this English country-style home — with a sprawling lawn, superlative food, boutique hotel-style service and modern amenities — is a vision of what a modern planter’s home might feel like we’re the British still around. In most other colonial bungalows in the region today, you’re mostly on your own in a time capsule, with only a cook for company. But Red Lynch has been subtly modernised in terms of service, bathrooms and heating. The antique furniture may or may not be period- or region-specific, but they go well with the property’s spirit of good taste and sophisticated luxury. This might have something to do with the ownership of Kathleen Vera Vincent, of the Vincent planter family, between 1940 and 1952, after which Tamil cinema superstar Gemini Ganesan bought it. His descendants and the current leasee, George Antony, now offer it sparingly to discerning guests.

Four other properties in Tamil Nadu were also impressive, each differently. The first was the 1930s Stanmore Bungalow in the Anamalai Hills, with its long verandah enveloping nearly its entire façade and overlooking the hills. Then there was the bungalow at Waterfall Estate, also in Valparai, which incorporated local Tamil elements into its otherwise British architecture. The best part of Valparai, though, was a drive to the Akkamalai Estate, after which civilisation ends and the wild sholas and Grass Hill Forest begin. Watching moonrise over Grass Hill was an unforgettable experience, making me want to return as a trekker next time around.   The third distinctive property in Tamil Nadu was Mailoor Estate in Coonoor, The great thing about this place, though, was its location and wildlife. Bison herds, by now somewhat used to people, enter the lawns every evening. A half-eaten bison carcass was found the week before, suggesting that there are big cats around as well. The manager, also named George (I met at least four Georges on this trip), is as fond of these wild bovines as I am. Our morning walk in the hills together was a pleasure.

The most luxurious property of the lot emerged during an unplanned stop in Ooty. Once we landed there, we couldn’t help but stop to photograph it, as it was nothing short of extraordinary. This was neither a plantation bungalow nor a country house, but a lavish English-style country manor bought by the Mysore maharaja and turned into his summer palace. Ferrnhills Royale Palace has what is probably the most ornate and well-maintained décor anywhere in the Western Ghats. The royal family has embellished it to a new level of extravagance, incorporating paneled red Burma teak walls, vaulted Elizabethan and Jacobean ceilings, glass-paneled corridors, Persian rugs, silk drapes, ornate murals and Chesterfield couches.


With so many young bloods now moving away from the estates to the cities for varied career prospects and more cosmopolitan ways, the planters’ lifestyle seems to be facing the threat of obscurity. Nowhere is this more visible than in the reduced crowds at the old planters’ clubs — watering holes that were once the fulcrum of European social life in these parts, with their celebratory lifestyles featuring ballroom dances, live music and sports, now look somewhat abandoned.

When I mentioned this during a conversation over drinks with a regular at the Mundakayam Club in Kerala — also named George — his response was interesting: You could label an empty club ‘forsaken’ or see entry as a rare privilege that accords exclusivity and intimacy for those who choose to endure.

Written by Sanjiv Valsan
(Travel Photographer/writer )

The information

Apart from their picturesque locations, colonial-era plantation bungalow stays give visitors a taste of the lifestyle that the British planters enjoyed. Be advised that these aren’t for everyone, certainly not the loud and restless. Those who value tranquility, aesthetics and comfort will be rewarded.

The bungalows
Periyar area
Downton Estate Bungalow :These are on the only plantation inside the Reserve. Downton is typically English, while the Reserve Bungalow is built in the style of Travancore hunting lodges.
Tariff: Rs 15,000 for two, all inclusive.

Mundakayam Valley & Peermade
Evergreen Estate Bungalow, Koottickal: A 1955 art deco influenced bungalow set in a rubber plantation.
Tariff: Rs 8,000 for two, with meals.
Plapalli, Mundakayam: Traditional Syrian Christian house with a tree house and infinity pool.
Tariff: Rs 7,500 for two, with meals.
Hill House, Peermade: Set on a cardamom estate owned by an ardent antique collector.
Tariff: Rs 10,000 for two, with meals.


Stanmore Bungalow:English suburban-style house. 
Tariff: Rs 12 ,000 for two, with meals.
Ropeway Bungalow: A blend of English and Tamil architecture, built in 1927.
Tariff: Rs 7,500 for two, with meals.


Red Lynch Bungalow: A 1907 bungalow, near the lake.
Tariff: Rs 10,000 for two, with meals.


Ferrnhills Royale Palace: A lavish place.
Tariff: from Rs 18,000 for two days, all inclusive.


For bungalow bookings, ask George Abraham
(9447084310, staygeo@gmail.com, www.evergreen estatebungalow.com)

Tags Plantation bungalows, tea estates in Tamil Nadu and Kerala, Western Ghats


"The True Lives we live -shared from our Hearts”

"The rooms at our bungalows are competitively priced to provide outstanding value. Price includes tax, boarding and all meals (Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner, Tea, Coffee, Snacks, etc.) Also includes all activities on the estate (excludes activities that involve transportation). Because of the unique nature of both the availability and the weather condition at each destination, we do not price our rooms at a fixed “per room” price.

The tariff can be set between the Guest and us as we believe in Value for Money for our customers experience and the Joy of sharing our properties to Guest who may become friends forever.

Prices are subject to change based on season, availability and current promotion, such as "Traditional Kerala Cuisine month” were very old cookery from grandmothers recipes is demonstrated and taught to guest ...Then on heavy monsoon months we organize" special vegetarian food sourced from very region specific and seasonal plants very healthy ,which makes you and feel better . ."The Cookery Lessons are free for guests staying more than 2Nights or Pay 500 per session. (One hour a day to make a Dish) Also we have mild treks to Urumbi hills, (we transfer you half way and you can trek up to 1200 feet enjoy the landscapes and return all the way back by foot or we can pick you up closer to our home .We do have walking and cycling along less trodden trails which takes you to panoramic spots along the Koottickal Valley .

We organize Visits to Mundakayam Club for snooker, Tennis and Golf at Peermade Club Course to get a peek into the once and still alive Planters who "Worked hard and played Hard "Charges are Minimal …



Finding beef in God’s Own Country
Rahul Akerkar

October 09, 2015

Rahul Akerkar returns to Kerala looking for juicy inspiration—and finds it on everyone’s plate

I’ve always maintained that food must take you somewhere. It must rekindle a memory from the past or form the basis of new memories. And so here I was, travelling through Kerala, taking a slow and gentle six-day road trip through the state, exploring local flavours, meeting people, looking for adventure and inspiration. The timing was perfect. I had recently quit the restaurant company I founded in 1996. I was ready for new ideas and a fresh start. And what better way to get those than travel? Over 26 years ago, as a young man who’d just returned from working kitchens in the United States, I backpacked through Kerala. What I saw then made me want to come back and stay in India, to get to know my country and people again. And I did. I also went on to open restaurants—chief among them, Mumbai’s Indigo. So, Kerala wasn’t new to me, but this time, I was going to see it through new eyes. My itinerary was designed with a different agenda. I’d still taste my way through this land of warm spices. I’d still be breaking bread with locals—and even cooking with them. But the journey would focus around a single ingredient—beef.

Beef in Kerala

Why beef? I live in Mumbai, where the meat was recently banned. The craving, however, lives on. In Kerala, beef has always been the king of the table, all tables. I wanted to try it in each and every way it’s cooked and eaten in the state—by Hindus (yes, you read that right), by Muslims, by Christians: by the daughter-in-law of a Muslim royal clan, by an instructor specialising in Syrian Christian cooking, by a friend’s Hindu house help and by cooks at restaurants where 6,000 people eat every day. The plan was to travel south to north—from Thiruvananthapuram to Kannur, through Koottickal, Kottayam, Kochi and Kozhikode. We crossed the backwaters with the monsoon chasing us, pulling over by the side of the road for sweet, milky chai made by slight matriarchs and for a tender coconut deftly sliced open by burly moustachioed men in mundus. I stopped at markets, getting my hands dirty handling freshly butchered cuts of beef. I listened to animated fish trade negotiations in Malayalam and marvelled at glistening hand-hewn knives and toddytappers’ sickles. Colour for all the senses. Even in its clichés, Kerala was bright and beautiful. My search for beef in all its variations really began when we spent a day in Koottickal, at Anju and George Abraham ‘s homestay – evergreen estate Bungalow farm, with its cowshed of mooing, ruminating Holsteins. On the emerald lawns, game birds and massive roosters clucked suspiciously at our unfamiliar faces. Anju had prepped a bunch of ingredients so that she could teach me how to cook her Pottamkulam clan’s beef ball curry. I’m not talking bulls’ testicles here but minced or ground meat, the kind used for making the meatballs eaten with spaghetti.

  Beef chilli fry at the George home
at Evergreen estate bungalow
Beef biryani being cooked at Amina's home.
Photos: Vidura Jang Bahadur

Legend (and it depended on who told me the story) has it that around two generations ago, the matriarchs of the clan were preparing a large number of beef cutlets one night, for an upcoming celebration. Naturally, they’d had a bit too much to drink and were, as Anju describes it, “in full condition”. As the night wore on and their hand–eye coordination got poorer, the cutlets became increasingly spheroid in shape and stunted in size. As the sun came up, they found their now marble-sized “cutlets” had begun to dry out and they did what any good amma nursing a hangover would have done. They dropped them in some really fresh coconut milk with a bunch of regional spices and let them simmer while they themselves sobered up. And thus was born the clan’s beef ball curry. A truly memorable dish, not only for its genesis but also for the gentle, slow method of cooking it and for its delicate, divine taste. Exquisite, really.

Kerala’s spice affair

The subtle use of spices reminded me of a conversation I’d had a couple of weeks before the trip with Lathika George, author of The Suriani Kitchen and an authority on Kerala’s cuisine. She’d said, “If you find yourself doing food with a lot of garam masala in it, it’s Kerala food for the tourists.” At the time, I didn’t quite get it. The Malabar coast was, after all, garam masala country; the home of wonderfully warm, woody spices—cinnamon, cardamom, clove and nutmeg. Surely they had an integral part to play in local cuisine? A few days into the trip, I was surprised to discover that they didn’t, or at least they didn’t scream in your face, loud and obvious. I understood what Lathika had meant. The earthy spices are used just to warm and round off the flavour of coconut, which dominates and permeates everything. It left me wondering whether the bulk of these spices might, in fact, be grown in Kerala only to be exported elsewhere. Ironic. Pepper on the other hand, I did learn, is used a lot everywhere—thankfully, for you can never have enough freshly ground black pepper!

If you find yourself doing food with a lot of garam masala in it, it’s Kerala food for the tourists

Famitha Suhail’s erachi paalpuyukk, or beef stew, was a case in point. On a very rainy day in Kannur, Famitha, a young member of the Arakkal royal family, cooked with me in her beautiful old family home, the dining room of which had a skylight, and the living room, exquisitely patterned antique tiles and an entresol. Her almost centenarian grandmother-in-law walked by every now and then, to make sure we were comfortable. Famitha taught me to make a traditional family recipe: an elegant peppery veal stew thickened with potatoes, known as erachi paalpuyukk. Instead of coconut oil, she used ghee, and she perfumed the dish with ginger, garlic, curry leaves, chillies, a whole lot of freshly crushed pepper—and then just the gentlest touch of warm spices. The curry was served over thiral pathiri, an almost Goan bebinca-style, slightly savoury cake, made by steaming layers of rice flour mixed with coconut milk. This dish, a treasure of the Arakkal royal family, was just sublime. Its complexity and layers of delicate, subtle flavours brought you back for more, much more.

The kitchens

Over the next five days, we were welcomed with much graciousness and warmth into people’s homes and kitchens, for cooking lessons and vast feasts with extended families. In Kochi, culinary school owner Nimmy Paul went out of her way to introduce me to her Syrian Christian beef mallicharu with idiyappam. In Bindu’s home in Puthur, outside Thrissur, I discovered edible napalm in the fiery, but strangely well-balanced varutharacha thenga erachi kayayam—beef cooked with tapioca and a spicy coconut paste.

At Famitha’s cousin Yashir Adi Raja’s home in Kannur, the act of cooking turned into a family affair, with numerous other cousins and nieces joining us in the kitchen to help us prepare a gnocchi-like aana pathiri. Rice dough with fennel, chilli and shallots was transformed into marble-sized dumplings, which were then stirred, much like pasta, into a (pressure-cooked) beef stew. And there was the erachi varattiyathu, a simple dish of sautéed beef that we tore into with crisp, fried, puri-like ney pathiri. Kadeeja Moidu and her mother, Amina, of the aristocratic Koyappathody clan in Kozhikode, graciously opened their stunning colonial home and prepared a feast (beef varattiyathu, beef porichathu and beef mulakittathu) I won’t easily forget. Their pepper beef was just to die for—incredibly tender, with wonderful aromas and an intense Tellicherry pepper heat that had plenty of the sharpness of black pepper but didn’t hit the back of your throat. I was grateful for the expandable mundu they gave me to wear and for the bed I was able to stagger off to after lunch.

Next came the kitchens of Muhammed Suhail’s Rahmath Hotel and Sumesh Govind’s Paragon restaurants. These are Kozhikode institutions—epitomes of efficient, well-oiled food preparation machines. We watched in wonder as they churned out endless kilos of flawless beef biryani and other local fare for the hundreds of diners who occupied their rooms at any time of the day.

What I learned

At all times during my journey, despite the differences in the dishes I ate, the primary ingredient remained the same. But there was something else that tied these culinary masterpieces together. Initially, I couldn’t quite put my finger on it, but about halfway through this journey, I had that epiphany.

What I realised was that everywhere we went—the dining rooms of Hindus, Muslims and Christians—we were not merely eating beef, but we were doing so in ways that totally belied the stigma and taboo associated with eating this meat elsewhere in the country. In most places I’ve travelled to, and this certainly holds true for India, the evolution of cuisine is generally culture-driven. Hindus eat differently from Muslims, who eat differently from Christians. Gujaratis eat differently from Bengalis, who eat differently from Maharashtrians, and so on—regardless of how close they live to one another. But here in Kerala, what became apparent to me was that it didn’t matter so much who you were or where you came from, but where you lived. You pretty much ate in the same way and with similar traditions, governed only by the ingredients and spices indigenous to that particular region.

This practice is something very precious and quite unique. It spoke to me of a wonderfully integrated, gentle and tolerant people, with a great sense of community. People may have initially brought different traditions to the table, given their heritage, but the cuisine that’s evolved from all of these is one based on the indigenous ingredients and spices of a particular region. This pure expression of food—devoid of any cultural prejudice—is a truly wonderful thing that needs to be exported everywhere.

  Beef ball curry at the George home
Evergreen estate bungalow home;
Erachi varattiyathu at Yashir Adi Raja's residence.
Photos: Vidura Jang Bahadur

Where rice rules

I also realised that, save for a couple of spectacular flaky maida parottas in Rahmath Hotel in Kozhikode, I barely ate any wheat the entire trip. The truth is, I didn’t miss it, because rice in Kerala makes up for it. I’m not talking about heaps of the red Matta rice we associate with vegetarian sadya meals. And I’m not talking about the ubiquitous appams and idiyappams, exquisite as they are. Rice here took on forms and textures that I never knew existed, forms I could not have anticipated. There was the soft-as-flan thiral pathiri, comparable to the gently fused layers of lasagna that we had at Famitha’s. At her cousin’s, there were the two pathiris—anna and ney—which, in spite of using the same rice dough, were as alike as gnocchi and puri. And the steamed puttus we ate by the roadside, on a rainy night en route to Kozhikode, reminded me of a savoury version of the sweet, migliaccio-like semolina cake from Campania. It amused me that what wheat pasta was to the Italians, rice “pasta” was to the Keralites. And much like in Italy, where the sauce dictates the use of a particular shape of pasta, each beef preparation we tried worked better with rice cooked in a particular way.


This was but one of the several dots I connected on this trip. But perhaps the most important connection happened while I was dressed in a cotton mundu and kurta, standing over a black clay urli, blowing on the flames below it, fired by dried coconut husk. I was suddenly taken back to my childhood, flooded with memories of my father’s mother, my aji, in her kitchen in our family home in Nashik. Except, we were at Kadeeja’s mother Amina’s home in Kozhikode. Similar style of home, spacious kitchen and pantry, though.

As I watched Amina, I couldn’t help but remember my aji cooking away in her kitchen. The intense love and single-minded passion with which Amina cooked made it all seem effortless. Just like my aji. Amina’s hands moved with an efficiency and precision that came from muscle memory learned from years of experience. Just like my aji. Amina cooked with the same confidence and joyous abandon as I remember my aji doing. And then, all the food turned out just as you’d expect of such an effort—spot on, delicious and perfect—and again, I was reminded of the many magical meals at my aji’s.

Something touched me very deeply that afternoon. During this journey of revelations and epiphanies, of rediscovering my own—given where I was just then, having quit everything searching for my true north—I reconnected with what it really meant to stand for something I believed in. I was put back in touch with things that really mattered to me—cooking and eating, sharing food that takes you places. That afternoon, I died and went to heaven in God’s Own Country.

Kerala specialities made at evergreen traditional way

  Rice and Coconut Pancakes (Appam). The speciality of Kerala...

Beef curry with coconut
Crushed ingrediants for Cherupayar Ulathiyadu
- Stir fry Green Grams
Fish In Bananan leaves …

  Banana stew ..with Cinnmon and Cardmom . RIPE JACKFRUIT AND ITS Halva …made traditional way .

    Moru Kachiyathu

  Pearl spot (Karimeen Pollichatu)

Christmas Recipes

  Fish Ishstew Steaming Christmas Puddings Traditional ways.


  Christmas Recipes -Pork vindaloo Spicy Boiled Prawn

  Tapioca and fiery chilly & Shallot cutney , a kerala favourite for Breakfast or the 4-5 Pm tea enjoyed over a chat on the table.

A Kerala Delicacy

  Rice-Flour Pancakes (Kallappams) MAKES 16 – 20

A Christian specialty, these pancakes are often served with non vegetarian curries such as
Coriander Chicken.

  Simple Chicken curry Carrot Halva